Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I rise to deliver a contribution from the opposition on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019. This bill has obviously attracted a great deal of media attention since the government first flagged it some time ago.
At the outset I want to put down some basic principles that have guided Labor's position on this bill. In one respect this bill deals with some competing tensions about rights within our community. On the one hand, Labor has always had a fine tradition of upholding the right to protest about political, philosophical and ideological matters. I point anyone who is interested in this to look at the legacy of previous Labor governments, state and federal, in ensuring that people do have a legitimate right to protest, particularly over civil rights matters. However, there is another right that is at play in the context of this bill, and that is the right of people involved in the agriculture industry, whether it be farmers, meatworkers or others, to go about their lawful business without illegal interruption by extremist protesters. So let there be no doubt that Labor respects and supports the right to protest but it does not support the extremist protesters who have repeatedly now—to use their words—invaded agricultural properties and other businesses involved in the agriculture sector in an illegal fashion, putting lives in danger.
I can already hear mutterings from Senator McKim, a supporter of extremist protesting. I'm interested to hear his and the Greens' contribution on this debate, to hear whether they have any respect whatsoever for the lives and businesses of people involved in the agriculture industry who have, quite literally, been threatened by some of these extremist protesters. I have no qualms whatsoever about saying that I support the right to protest on political matters. It is something I have done personally over many decades and continue to do. But what I don't do is threaten the lives and businesses of people who are going about their lawful business, and that is what we are seeing from some extremist protester elements. Senator McKim and his colleagues may wish to reflect on that as they are making up their mind about which way they will land on this bill.
As I said, our starting position is that Labor acknowledge that farmers and those in agricultural businesses should not be subjected to intimidating and unlawful actions by extreme activists trespassing on their land and that, if there are gaps in the criminal law that permit such behaviour to go unpunished, it is appropriate for the government to ensure legislation fills those gaps. That is why Labor supported the passage of this bill through the House of Representatives and that is why we are supporting the passage of this bill here today.
However, from the time this bill was rushed into the parliament—and let's be honest, the genesis of this bill was another political stunt from this government—without consultation or the proper time needed for careful drafting, concerns have been raised that this bill, like so much that this government does, is a kind of virtue-signalling which doesn't take account of legitimate concerns about where this bill might go and unintended consequences that might arise, rather than being a serious attempt to protect farmers. Repeated failures in lawmaking by this government have demonstrated that the power to make laws for our nation, which is a power entrusted to the federal government by the Australian people, is a power that should be exercised with great care.
Instead, as the many potentially significant unintended consequences of this sloppily drafted law show, the Morrison government continues to see its power to make laws for our nation as a marketing opportunity simply to build the Liberal Party and National Party brands. This is concerning in the case of criminal laws because of the severe impact that such laws can have on individuals that fall foul of them. But let me say that we will be supporting this bill because Labor are prepared to support laws to better protect farmers and others involved in the agriculture sector from unlawful protests by extremist protesters on their land and on their premises. Again, if anyone has any doubt about the seriousness of the events that have been going on and the need to take action, you need only talk to some of the farm businesses who have been the subject of this illegal form of extremist protesting. We're not talking about genuine civil disobedience—
I'll take the interjection from the Greens. The extremist Greens, by saying that we are talking about genuine protesting, are defending the threats to people's lives, which have actually occurred, from these extremist protesters. You really should question whether you want to align yourselves with people who are making death threats and other threats to destroy the livelihoods of people around the country. I understand that the Greens also support civil disobedience—I have no issue with that; Labor supports civil disobedience—but I will not have any truck with people who issue death threats against farming families, against children, and against businesses. Labor is not up for that. We will not support that kind of protesting. If the Greens want to stand side by side with extremist protesters who issue death threats, who issue threats against children, who publicise the street addresses, premises and locations of families and children, and encourage people to take action against those individuals, well, that's a matter for the Greens. But that is not something that Labor supports—while we do of course support the right to legitimate civil disobedience and protest.
This bill has now been examined by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. The evidence given to that committee from 86 submitters highlighted a range of very significant problems with this bill as currently drafted. The government members of this committee then basically ignored every concern raised and recommended that this bill be passed without a single amendment.
Labor members of the committee took a more responsible approach to the task of legislative review that was entrusted to them and a more respectful approach to the people and organisations who took the time to analyse this bill and provide evidence to the committee about what they found. The fact that they were effectively doing the work of the Morrison government for it by closely examining a bill before it became law didn't seem to make any difference.
At the outset, the Labor members of the committee agreed with the claimed purpose of this legislation, which is to protect Australian farmers and primary production businesses from those who incite trespass or other property offences on agricultural land. Of course we acknowledge that the food and fibre industries add significant value to the economy and contribute to the health and wellbeing of Australians. I take this opportunity to again make clear that Labor believes that Australians operating these businesses have a right to do so in peace and that there is no place for actions, no matter the cause, that endanger or threaten workers, create biosecurity risks or intimidate farmers on their own property. That is what this bill is trying to do.
This bill is not about restricting people's genuine right to undertake civil disobedience. This is a bill that is designed to prevent extremist protesters from endangering or threatening workers, creating biosecurity risks and intimidating farmers on their own property. However, I note that Labor members of the committee recommend that this bill be substantially amended to deal with the numerous significant unintended consequences that have been identified by submitters and outlined in the report.
Labor's concern about the bill in its current form is that the poor drafting has created the risk of a range of unintended consequences. These were addressed in evidence to the committee and include: overlap with existing state and territory laws; a lack of proportionality in comparison to existing offences; impacts on the implied constitutional right to freedom of political communication; impacts on public interest journalism; impacts on whistleblowers; impacts on farmers involved in legitimate rural protests; and, finally, impacts on legitimate industrial activities by workers and unions. For that reason, I foreshadow that Labor will be moving a number of amendments to this bill.
Supporters of this bill argue that legislative action by the Commonwealth parliament is needed to fill gaps in state and territory legislation and a perceived lack of action by state authorities. However, the Attorney-General's Department has identified 31 laws that already deal with trespass, property damage and relevant incitement offences in state and territory laws. The offences created by this bill appear to substantially overlap with existing state and territory laws that already criminalise trespass, damage to property and theft and could already form the basis of criminal liability for those who incite those offences. To this extent, the bill may therefore do little but complicate the law with superfluous additional offences that will not improve existing legal protections for farmers.
It is also important to note that the government has already taken a significant and targeted action against Aussie Farms, one of the main protest groups, by listing it as a prescribed organisation under the Privacy Act 1988. According to the Attorney-General, this exposes Aussie Farms to potential penalties of up to $2.1 million if it is found to breach the Privacy Act.
Let me now turn to the unintended consequences that this bill may have. Australia has a robust democracy founded on freedom of political communication. We, in Labor, believe in defending the right of our citizens to conduct protests, and that includes the right of farmers to protest. No laws should unduly restrict those basic rights shared by all Australians.
The Law Council and some other witnesses before the committee raised concerns that the bill may impinge upon the implied freedom of political communication, because conduct captured by the proposed offences 'may overreach what is necessary for the effective operation of a system of representative and responsible government'. This concern is linked to the concern that whistleblowers and public interest journalism are not adequately protected by the bill, which could lead a court to strike the bill down as unconstitutional.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights scrutiny report also raised a number of concerns about the impact of the bill on human rights and the adequacy of the safeguards it purports to provide.
From the outset, Labor has also been concerned by evidence that this bill may have the effect of criminalising the actions of whistleblowers and journalists who are seeking to expose and prevent illegal cruelty to animals. Evidence to the committee from numerous submitters, including the Law Council of Australia and Australia's Right to Know, was that, as presently drafted, the protections in this bill are inadequate to protect public interest journalism. Once again, these problems could be fixed with fairly simple amendments, consistent with protections for journalists and whistleblowers in other laws, but the Morrison government has chosen to ignore this reality and to place Liberal Party marketing objectives before press freedom and the basic rights of all Australians, including their right to know.
While the government continues to claim that the bill will provide adequate protection for journalists and whistleblowers, over recent months Australians have seen the Morrison government's lack of respect for the public's right to know about unlawful activities and its willingness to use the criminal law and the police to seek to intimidate independent journalists and whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing.
We in Labor are concerned to ensure that this bill will not add to the threats to journalists who are trying to do their job in the public interest, and we will be moving an amendment to ensure that journalists and whistleblowers will be fully protected.
Another possible unintended consequence of this bill is that its poorly drafted provisions could also be directed against farmers, the very people it is said this bill will protect. Labor members of the committee pointed out that protests on agricultural land are not only carried out by animal rights activists. In recent years there have been many cases of protests and other activist activities, including trespass, on agricultural land by people involved in rural groups such as the Lock the Gate Alliance and those involved in water pipeline protests in Victoria's Yarra Valley. While the government claims that the bill is aimed at animal rights protesters, it is clear that the offences in this bill could also be used against farmers engaged in protest actions against mining exploration or other developments on agricultural land. And, as the Prime Minister has recently declared, he is never troubled to see the law enforced.
In their additional comments, Labor members of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee concluded:
There may well be a case for stronger laws or penalties in some states, and more rigorous enforcement of existing laws, in order to protect farmers, workers and their families from the harms and potential harms of activist trespass. Labor is not convinced, however, that this bill as currently drafted is the right vehicle to achieve those aims.
They also said:
Labor's long term position has been to support moves to achieve better animal welfare and consistent application and enforcement of animal protection statutes by harmonising relevant federal, state and territory laws and codes. Labor has supported the establishment of an independent office of animal welfare; phasing out cosmetic testing on animals or on products used in the production of cosmetics; and; has opposed any 'ag-gag' legislation.
The Commonwealth parliament is no place for virtue signalling, especially when there are broader consequences. The lack of rigour applied to the drafting and evidence from the relevant departments on this bill has led to concerns that this is a problem looking for a solution.
I commend those comments of the Labor members of the committee.
In conclusion, when this bill was introduced Labor made clear that our concerns are not with the stated purpose of the bill but with the many potential unintended consequences that could flow should this poorly drafted bill become law. For these reasons, Labor did not oppose the bill's passage through the House and said that we would announce our position following consultation with farmers and legal experts and following review of the recommendations of the report on the bill by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.
Labor understands that the vast majority of Australian farmers respect the law and care for the animals that are their livelihood and would agree with us that laws passed to protect farmers from unlawful actions on their land should not have the unintended consequences of criminalising legitimate journalism and whistleblowing on matters of public interest or stifling legitimate protest actions, including those taken by farmers themselves.
If the government really wanted to deal with the problem of protests by Australians against animal cruelty, it would be better off by showing that it is responding to their concerns by trying to better deal with the problem of animal cruelty. As the government majority of the committee itself declared, there is little doubt that activists who trespass to collect footage or release farm animals do so because they are motivated by a genuine personal commitment to animal welfare. However, Labor is prepared to support laws to better protect farmers from unlawful extremist protest activities on their land, and for that reason we will be supporting this bill.
I rise to speak on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019, which should really be called the 'ag gag bill'. Let's have no doubt that this is nothing but an 'ag gag bill'. The Greens will be opposing this bill because it is a terrible and unnecessary piece of legislation. You lot seem to have completely missed the fact that almost every state and territory already has trespass and incitement laws. On first reading, you can tell that this bill is just the government's embarrassing and poorly thought-out kneejerk reaction to a handful of incidents. But it's actually much worse than that. This is an antiprotest bill dressed up as protection. It takes us further down the road of a police state. It's just the latest bill in the long line of legislation aimed at protecting big agribusiness and corporations from scrutiny and transparency. It is designed to stop the public from using their democratic right to protest.
The ramifications of passing the bill are significant. It would apply to huge swathes of Australia. It would limit the right to protest and take nonviolent direct action, not only for animal protection but in the fight against climate-destroying coalmines and coal seam gas on agricultural land. Why else would this bill be so incredibly broad in its inclusion of any agricultural land? It includes any land, like fruit and vegetable farms or private native forestry. If this were about the so-called vegan activists, why would it include non-animal agricultural land? Anyone who thinks that this bill is about mum-and-dad farms has had the wool pulled over their eyes. This is a completely illiberal response which is inconsistent with the Australian public's right to free speech, freedom of information and freedom of the press. As such, it has significant implications for animals, consumers, the media and all members of the public.
I want to underscore that this bill is an attack not just on animal activists as foreshadowed by the minister but on all activism and on all rights to protest. It is a law that will apply to at least half, and probably more, of the vast land of our country. It will be applied equally to any activist group suppressing their democratic right to stand up, speak out and protest. Just think about all the coalmines and the coal seam gas operations located on agricultural land. Even when people protest to protect farmers who want to lock the gate on coal seam gas mining, they will be caught up in this. That's how much you care about mum-and-dad farmers.
This bill is also an attack on the media. It puts an extra burden on journalists, who will have to prove that their work is in the public interest or else risk being exposed to the serious penalties in this bill—up to five years in jail. This bill is the continued slow march to a police state. This bill is the antithesis of democracy. As my colleague Senator McKim has put it in this place, it is part of the slow march to fascism.
'Ag gag' legislation serves only to shield the commercial interests of intensive farming operations and stifle transparency about the standard practices on many factory farms. I say to the government that the world is changing. You are on the wrong side of history, and so is the Labor opposition. After Senator Watt put together a long list of all the problems with this bill, they're still going to vote for it. Animal welfare issues are now front and centre for the people of Australia. The government should be in the business of helping to improve animal welfare outcomes by working with industry to introduce better standards, not trying to avoid scrutiny and criminalising those who expose animal mistreatment. In the absence of any serious monitoring of animal welfare in factory farms by the government, animal activists have had to fill the void.
At the core of the government's confusion—and it is partly confusion—is their unwillingness to admit that there is a huge problem with animal welfare in this country. I simply could not believe the audacity of the agriculture minister, Bridget McKenzie, when she told ABC's Country Hour recently, 'We have a raft of measures in place to ensure animal welfare standards of the highest order in this country.' Senator, you're either dreaming or you're being wilfully ignorant. I was even more shocked when I tuned in to the Senate inquiry into this bill and the hearing with Mr Christopher Delforce of Aussie Farms. I was shocked by how ignorant coalition senators are of the reality of farmed agriculture. Senator McMahon insisted that livestock was not exempt from animal cruelty laws. But we know many model codes of practice exempt livestock. In my home state of New South Wales, to give just one example, livestock is exempted from the requirement to provide exercise to a confined animal—a provision which enables cruel battery cages and sow stalls.
As a country, we should be ashamed of what we allow to go on in animal agriculture. Of course many farms don't use these cruel practices but many still do, especially industrial factory farms. As a country, we allow procedures and practices that would never be allowed to be carried out on your family cat or dog without pain relief, such as dehorning and castration of cattle, debeaking of chickens, cutting the teeth of piglets and mulesing sheep. Someone can literally lock up chickens in cages for their whole lives and raise ducks who never see water. They can keep pigs in pens so small that the pigs can't even turn around. All of this is legal. It is not just me who thinks that our laws are inadequate and must change. The government commissioned a report called Australia's shifting mindset on farm animal welfare, conducted by Futureye, and the results were pretty amazing. Just 10 per cent of people think that our animal welfare standards are adequate. The other 90 per cent want to see change. More than 70 per cent of people think that farm animal welfare is a moderate or a serious issue, and more than 90 per cent of people think that cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens are sentient or somewhat sentient. Yet, the laws allow them to be subjected to abuse and mistreatment.
You are in denial if you think that there isn't an animal welfare crisis. Even inadequate animal cruelty laws are rarely enforced. We should be passing national animal cruelty laws that protect all animals, including farm animals, not the government's nonsense that we are debating today. We should be introducing mandatory CCTV in abattoirs, and banning battery cages and sow stalls, yet here we are. The laws that you are pushing through today are completely unnecessary and they are completely disproportionate—unnecessary because trespass and incitement are already offences and disproportionate because you would criminalise people who are concerned about animal welfare much more than a person committing the most violent and cruel abuse of animals. Imagine the most heinous, horrible and cruel things that someone could do to an animal, where an animal is killed or seriously injured by that cruelty. The absolute maximum prison term that monster would get in my home state of New South Wales is two years, but in this bill the government is saying that someone who puts up a Facebook event or sends a text message about potentially going onto agricultural land to rescue an animal from abuse could be sentenced to up to five years—much longer than the person who actually commits aggravated cruelty. What a horrible distortion of justice! If someone became aware of an animal suffering horrifically from cruelty and neglect and took action to rescue that animal, they would be penalised more than the person who committed the cruelty. How can that possibly be justified?
Daniel Brighton was recently jailed for stabbing a dog with a pitchfork at least six times, hanging it from a tree for 45 minutes and bashing it with a mallet about eight times. He then put the animal in a plastic bag and told an employee to dump it. The maximum penalties in this bill for trying to expose animal cruelty are 1½ times more than what this person got for extreme cruelty.
Don't give me this rubbish that animal welfare isn't in the federal government purview. Our advice clearly states that the Commonwealth has the power to create laws that can protect animals and agriculture. Currently, in most states and territories farm animals can legally be subjected to excruciating and painful procedures and this has to end.
We know that this bill is just part of the agenda of attacking animal welfare organisations. Just recently we saw false and defamatory cash-for-cruelty smears against Animals Australia perpetuated by this government and the Murdoch media. We know that this is happening hand in glove with the New South Wales government. Their new trespass fines, announced under New South Wales Biosecurity Regulation 2017, are an egregious betrayal of biosecurity principles and a politicisation of a very important issue.
When the Biosecurity Bill 2015 passed in New South Wales parliament, I and others pointed out that that was an 'ag gag bill'. At the time, the then Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair, said, 'the bill is not about farm trespass, it is not about animal welfare, other than as it relates directly to biosecurity risks, and it is definitely not ag gag legislation.' Yet, two years later the government is breaking its word. What a surprise.
This smear campaign against animal welfare organisations has been going on for some time. When I was in New South Wales parliament, I obtained a document summarising then agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce's comments to a national Farm Trespass Roundtable in 2015. That report did make for some very interesting reading. Joyce said, in reference to animal welfare laws: 'If laws are inadequate, there are open processes through the parliament to seek change to such laws.' This is the minister who oversaw the export of hundreds of Australian greyhounds to be raced to death in Macau and refused to stop it.
This is the minister who abolished the Australian animal welfare advisory committee, the only national forum that brought together industry, welfare groups and government to progress much needed reforms in Australia. He also defunded the Australian animal welfare strategy and the dismantling of the Department of Agriculture's animal welfare unit. It was under him that a national standard for free range eggs was established which set a stocking density seven times higher than the guidelines published by CSIRO in the Model Code of Practice. Is it any wonder, then, that the people don't trust this government when it has such indifference to animal suffering? Barnaby Joyce isn't alone. He and his actions were backed lock, stock, and barrel by this government.
The report goes on to say something even more interesting. It concludes: 'No law or regulatory intervention alone is likely to eliminate farm trespass completely.' It talks about lifting animal welfare standards and transparency, and none of that has transpired.
The summary of the presentation from Scott Hansen, director of the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, went on to the core of this issue and states:
The promotion of high farming standards, with greater openness and transparency surrounding the conditions in which animals are bred and raised, along with a concerted and community directed education and information effort, contribute to the social licence between the community and producers. Such transparency will lessen the incentive to 'reveal' alleged mistreatment by lawful businesses.
This is what this government should be doing.
This bill contains the aggravated offences for inciting someone to damage stock or commit theft. If you were honest and serious about rural crime you would be looking at the biggest issue in farm trespass. You know that the biggest issue is illegal hunting and pig-dogging, yet you don't see any resources or rushed legislation devoted to that issue. Associate Professor Elaine Barclay from the University of New South Wales surveyed more than 3,000 farmers across New South Wales and Queensland. She found incidents of trespassing and unauthorised hunting had doubled. She said the current pig hunting craze had produced offenders who were well equipped with off-road vehicles, GPS systems, and high-powered rifles. She said:
They are responsible for gates left open, damage to fences, crops and vegetation, vandalism, arson, littering, disturbing, stealing or shooting stock, having dogs that attack livestock, and the thefts of fuel, tools and equipment, tyres, lights or GPS equipment from farm machinery.
This is the thing that affects everyday farmers, which is being completely ignored by this government.
The 2016 NSW Stock Theft and Trespass Review conducted by the NSW government found that the main issues raised during consultations with land owners were stock theft, stock identification, rural trespass, especially by pig hunters and goat harvesters, and police response to rural crime incidents. The majority of these illegal hunting incidents involve the hunting of pigs with dogs. Why have you not once mentioned this issue? Because the only reason you have this bill is to go after animal welfare activists.
The simple reality is that the government has let big corporate agribusiness go on with no accountability and no transparency for far too long. Maximising their profits by using and abusing animals. The cruelty in the greyhound racing industry or the live export industry should have been uncovered by government agencies. Better yet, we should have strong laws to protect those animals. But, because this is sadly lacking, those who care for animals and have the courage to expose cruelty are forced to do so. This is why there is a need for a well-resourced independent office of animal welfare separate from primary industries, so that we can monitor, enforce and drive change in animal law and practice in Australia.
Just last month we saw footage released of cruelty to hens at a Victorian poultry farm, uncovered by Animal Liberation. In the vision, one worker pulls on a chicken's head, and is heard saying that it feels good, just after another says, 'I hate it when their heads come off.' Another worker can be seen picking up clucking chickens and banging them against a surface. Another animal is poked with a pole while flapping its wings trying to escape. This is just pure evil. It is sickening. And your response to that cruelty is to say how great our animal welfare laws are while passing these laws that would make criminals of those exposing cruelty. The truth is you just don't want anyone to see this.
Ag gag laws are the wrong response. We should be embracing transparency not closing things up. Ag gag laws passed in the United States are having disturbing impacts on freedom of speech, animal welfare and the reputation of the agricultural industry. Just recently, a federal court judge ruled that Idaho's ag gag laws banning secret filming of animal abuse at agricultural facilities are unconstitutional. Not many years ago, Animal Liberation NSW revealed severe acts of cruelty at the Hawkesbury Valley Meats processor through secretly recorded footage. In response, the NSW Food Authority conducted a full review of domestic slaughterhouses across our state. The meat processors in question eventually elected voluntarily to install surveillance cameras to improve transparency. Some policy progress has been made since then, but we need stronger regulation that is actually enforced. The Greens will not be party to the passing of laws that will silence protestors and jail animal welfare investigators and other activists. People have a right to know how their food is produced. As Will Potter, an American independent journalist and public speaker, says:
The reason that activists are a "threat" isn't that they are breaking windows. It's that they're creating them.
The Greens oppose the bill.
It's great to be rising in support of this legislation today, because this legislation is a choice for this parliament and for this Senate about whose side they're on, whether they're on the side of hardworking, law-abiding farmers who are producing food and fibre for our nation or whether they're on the side of the vegan terrorists. The Greens have made it clear they are on the side of the vegan terrorists, as we would expect.
This bill delivers on an election promise made by the Morrison government. I wanted to take a moment, before I get into the detail of the bill, to reflect on that election of which this promise was one part of. At the election, the Australian people were faced with a very clear choice. On one hand they had the Liberal-National government that said to them that, if they got out and had a go, they would get a go and the government would support them.
At the election, the Australian people were faced with a very clear choice. On the one hand they had the Liberal-National government, who said to them that if they got out and had a go they would get a go and the government would support them. It was a choice between a government that was fundamentally on their side and the Labor-Greens opposition dominated by inner-city elites who planned to whack them with nearly $400 billion of additional taxes and whose unrealistic, uncosted renewable energy targets would have smashed manufacturing in this country, smashed agriculture in this country and driven our costs of living through the roof. Of course, the people made a decision to back in a government that would back them, rather than a Labor Party who, with their Greens partners, sneered and thought their hard work and aspiration was something to be punished.
Having received this endorsement, the government are now getting on with the job of delivering upon these commitments we made to the Australian people, and we've been delivering in spades. In just a few short sitting weeks we've delivered on commitments to the Australian people. We've delivered on the tax cuts that we promised in the budget back in April and that we took to the election in May and which we then legislated in July—5½ million Australians have already received the benefits of those tax cuts flowing into the economy. And of course we have seen the challenge for the Labor Party in deciding whose side they're on in dealing with tax cuts. They couldn't make a decision. They were against tax cuts right up until the moment they got through the parliament, where there were enough numbers without the Labor Party, and then they decided they were for the tax cuts.
We see again the Labor Party faced with a choice: whether they are on the side of the vegan terrorists or whether they are on the side of law-abiding farmers. The Greens have made it clear, to their credit, that they are on the side of vegan terrorists. That's very clear from the contributions they've made. We wouldn't expect anything less. The Labor Party seem to be having a bit of an existential crisis on this. They have said they are going to support this bill, and we acknowledge that. We are grateful that they are supporting this bill. But it was very interesting to read in The Australian today that apparently the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Albanese, had to make it clear to some of his caucus, perhaps Senator Carr or others, that the Labor Party are actually not the party of vegan terrorists. It's good news. The Labor Party apparently are not a party of vegan terrorists. It doesn't appear to be a clear majority view within the Labor Party. It appears to be something that they are quite conflicted on. Perhaps Senator Carr can tell us whether he is on the side of vegan terrorists and whether his party is the party of vegan terrorists. But it is quite extraordinary. You can imagine in the caucus meeting Mr Albanese saying to his colleagues, 'No, that's really not what we're about; we are not about supporting vegan terrorists,' and others in the faction saying, 'I don't know; I think maybe we should support vegan terrorists.' So the Labor Party are having this existential crisis where they have to decide which side they are on, whether it's on economic issues, whether it's on national security or whether it's on simple, common-sense law and order that farmers and their families should not be subjected to this kind of disgraceful attack from a small number of activists in our community putting them under threat.
This goes to the premise of this bill. This bill delivers on the Liberal-National government's commitment to back in Australians. In this case, we are backing in Australian farmers and primary producers by introducing new criminal offences to protect them from the unlawful action of animal activists. Over the past few years, we've seen militant animal rights activists and others trespass onto legitimate businesses, including farms, which in many cases are family-run small businesses and family homes. Many of these activists have engaged in property damage and theft of livestock as well as food contamination and other biosecurity breaches. Above all else, they make famers and their families feel unsafe on their land and in their homes doing their business. Farmers and other primary producers are a vital part of the Australian economy, our society and our community, and they deserve our protection so that they can go about their business free from harassment and threats of harm.
This reprehensible conduct has been enabled, encouraged and facilitated by a number of groups sharing personal information online, including names and addresses of farmers. These are farmers who, in the vast majority of cases, do nothing wrong. These are farmers who, in the vast majority of cases, care much more for the welfare of their animals than most other people.
This bill introduces new offences for the incitement of trespass, property damage or theft on agricultural land. The first offence relates to incitement of trespass on agricultural land. It would make it an offence for a person to use a carriage service to transmit, make available, publish or otherwise distribute material with the intent to incite another person to trespass on agricultural land. A person guilty of this offence would face up to 12 months imprisonment. The second offence is a more serious offence; it deals with incitement to commit property damage on agricultural land. Where a person uses a carriage service to transmit, make available, publish or otherwise distribute material with the intent to incite another person to unlawfully damage or destroy property or commit theft on agricultural land, they will be guilty of an offence and face up to five years imprisonment.
Let's not be under any misconceptions here. It is already a serious offence for individuals to commit trespass on agricultural land. It is already an offence for a bunch of inner-city activists to jump on a bus and launch a commando raid on a family farm. It is also already an offence for them to break and enter. The problem is that, over the last little while, we've seen personal information—names, addresses and other personal details of farms, abattoirs, feed lots, saleyards and many other lawful businesses across Australia—published on a map on the Aussie Farms website. Many of these places of business are also homes to families—homes where children sleep and play—and it is absolutely disgusting that animal activists and others would invade these spaces in some sort of crusade.
I have raised concerns with the Aussie Farms group in the media. They have charitable status and so receive some of the same generous tax concessions as legitimate charities like Vinnies, the Salvos, the Fred Hollows Foundation and so many others doing an amazing job in our community. As many would know, the government is working on a response to the ACNC review, which will be released shortly. What I will say, however, is that, as we look at that, we need to consider some of these issues with groups like Aussie Farms and Save the Tarkine coalition—whom my colleagues from Tasmania would be well acquainted with—whose operations involve criminal trespass and the incitement of criminal trespass on private property. The sabotage of legitimate businesses constitutes an abuse of the privileged position that charitable organisations have in Australia. I've raised my concerns about Aussie Farms with the charities commissioner. Political activists and organisations condoning criminal activities masquerading as charities corrode Australians' trust in charities overall.
What Aussie Farms has demonstrated is the potential for the internet to be used by activists to incite others to commit trespass and property offences on agricultural land. Therefore, it has prompted this stronger action to deter those who incite this sort of behaviour. That's why, earlier this year, the government prescribed the Aussie Farms website as an organisation regulated by the Privacy Act. Farmers and primary producers can now make a complaint to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. In April the OAIC announced it was conducting inquiries to establish whether or not Aussie Farms was operating in compliance with the Privacy Act, and I look forward to its conclusion.
It is worth noting that the bill includes specific exemptions for journalists and lawful whistleblowers. The provisions of this bill will not apply to a news report or current affairs report that is in the public interest and is made by a person working in a professional capacity as a journalist. These two tests—the public interest test and the test of working in a professional capacity as a journalist—will ensure that organisations who incite trespass cannot masquerade as journalists. These offences will not apply to a whistleblower who makes a public interest disclosure in accordance with existing whistleblower laws such as the Public Interest Disclosure Act, the whistleblower provisions in the Corporations Act or the various other mechanisms in state and territory law. Whistleblowers will be able to continue to report on animal cruelty, including online, provided they do so in accordance with existing laws. Neither do these laws in any way inhibit freedom of speech and freedom of political communication, provided those rights are exercised without incitement to trespass or damage property.
Let's not be under any misapprehensions here. We saw in the consideration of this bill by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee many examples of some pretty disgraceful behaviour on the part of so-called animal rights activists in their crusade against good, decent and honest people going about their lawful business. We heard from Mr Ean Pollard, a pork producer in New South Wales, whose property was attacked by activists in the middle of the night in Easter of 2013—then came the abusive phone calls, emails and letters. We heard stories of farmers sending their families away from the farm prior to an attack by animal activists, because they didn't feel it was safe to keep them there and that there was nothing to guarantee their safety. We heard of farmers terrified of leaving their elderly parents at home. This sort of behaviour from vegan terrorists and other so-called animal activists is absolutely unacceptable, and I'm glad that we're acting against these kinds of extremists.
The simple fact of the matter is that the government has a duty to do what it can to protect lawful businesses from unlawful disruption and damage not only for economic reasons but because these sorts of attacks have pretty devastating personal effects and personal impacts on the victims. The government has a duty to ensure that people going about their lawful business are protected and to ensure that carriage services are not misused. This legislation underpins a range of other carriage service offences already in the Criminal Code that complement state and territory laws.
This does come down to whose side we're on. The Liberal-National government has made it very clear that we are on the side of those quiet Australians. We are on the side of, in this case, Australian farmers going about their lawful business. They should not be subjected to these kinds of disgraceful attacks. We shouldn't be giving encouragement to these vegan terrorists. The Labor Party are going to have a make a decision in the long run on where they land on these issues. I'm glad that we're going to be receiving their support for this bill today, as much as they are seeking to have two bob each way as they deliver that support, and I commend this outstanding bill to the Senate.
I speak on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019, having thoroughly considered the matters as deputy chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. The substantive report that we have provided contains a very, I think, comprehensive response to this very flawed bill. On behalf of the Labor Party, Senator Chisholm and I have produced that document, which I might say is much more substantive than the government's report.
The reason we've had to do this is the bill is so basically flawed. This is a bill that may well have set out to have an intent to deal with questions that the minister has just outlined, but it was, in fact, a response to an election announcement, as the public servants made very clear. It was, in fact, in response to a very thin legislative program by this government in the context of an election campaign where they had very little to say. As the various departments and agencies that presented to the committee demonstrated with their meagre submissions of only one page, the departments had clearly not consulted widely, had not provided an exposure draft of the legislation and had demonstrated just how grossly underprepared they were to deal with this legislation. We see here that the government has put forward a proposal in search of, essentially, a response to a problem that has yet to be demonstrated can be dealt with in the way the government claims.
There is a real risk in this bill that the government will actually fail to achieve its stated aims. The bill has been hyped as a necessary response to farm invasion by animal rights activists, but it's put in a context where there are, at the moment, 31 separate statutes across this country to deal with matters which the Attorney-General's Department has identified. We publish in our report, which goes for page after page of detail, what the actual legislative response is across the Commonwealth in identifying those issues and where the states are currently strengthening their legislative response to the claims that are being made by the groups that have recently published the addresses of farms and abattoirs in this country.
We know that trespass is normally and properly prosecuted by state and territory jurisdictions—so are theft, property damage and incitement. Like trespass, this is a crime that has been covered in common law throughout the history of this nation. All the legal armoury needed to crack down on farm invaders already exists. But, you see, this is not a bill that deals with the question of trespass. This is not a bill about trespass; this is a bill about incitement. It's about incitement, and it goes far beyond farms and far beyond agricultural premises. It goes to food production premises in cities. It goes to aquaculture facilities. It goes to some research facilities. It goes to some facilities on private land but not on public land. It's inconsistent in its approach. It deals with fish processing plants. It deals with vegetable processing plants that deal with fish processing. It deals with a series of measures which clearly have not been thought through, because it's been drafted in such a hasty manner. This is legislation that has been brought forward with little thought to the consequence of its broader implications.
The bill creates two new offences under the Criminal Code: the use of a carriage service, such as the internet, to incite others to trespass or to damage, destroy or steal property on agricultural land and in relation to agricultural related activity. And, of course, it was promoted because of the publication of certain facilities by animal rights activists. The Labor Party, as has been made very, very clear, strongly opposes farm invasions, and I personally have strongly opposed people who move on to the killing floors of abattoirs, seek to close down abattoirs or seek to undermine the work of our meat industry in this country. I have long been associated with the meat industry in this country. So to suggest that somehow or other we're implicated, with—what do you call it?—'vegan terrorism' is a complete nonsense.
The whole question here, we've said and made it very, very clear—
Senator McKim interjecting—
We are very, very clear about the nature—
If I may, Madam Acting Deputy President, the rest of us have sat quietly through other senators' contributions, but I can't hear Senator Carr for the shrill screaming of Senator McKim. I would ask you to bring him to order.
The Labor Party has strongly supported international best practice in animal welfare and the establishment of the independent Office of Animal Welfare, and we see there is absolutely no contradiction between the prevention of animal cruelty and supporting the proper and best practice in regard to livestock, farming and the flourishing of a meat processing industry. And, of course, you would expect that's what this bill should be seeking to do. But there's considerable evidence to suggest that that's not what this bill actually does, and that's why it needs substantive amendment.
There are so many unintended consequences, and I'll try to list some of them. The Law Council pointed out to the Senate inquiry that the bill is quite clearly unnecessary given the range of state matters that are being dealt with. It's disproportionate in that the penalties imposed under these measures are much greater than those that apply to the people who actually do the trespassing. It is a bizarre aspect that in some cases you get six months for trespassing in the states but five years for using the telephone. The penalties imposed here, as I say, are disproportionate. They are perverse outcomes. And, of course, we have to ask whether or not there has been proper consideration of what the consequences of that might be.
Then there is, of course, the very serious issue of the threat to rural protest movements and legitimate industrial activity by Australian workers, and that's the real thing that worries me about this bill: the consequences it has for meat workers, whether in the red meat or the white meat—pork or chicken—industries, or for the National Union of Workers or the AWU in the dairy industry, or the AMIEU, across this country.
Then there are the consequences it has for whistleblowers. The minister points out that there are issues as to public interest declarations. We've got people on trial in this country at the moment for whistleblowing. We've got journalists who are being raided in this country at the moment for exercising their position as journalists. And you're going to try and tell me there are adequate protections in this legislation!
There is a real, serious risk here that, when you undermine people's capacity to provide that whistleblowing service and undermine the work that journalists do, you actually enhance organised crime in this country. And you say to me, 'That's an extreme statement, isn't it?' In the meat industry, what did we have? We had the Woodward royal commission. Minister, you're so clever and you know so much about this—do you remember the Jodhpur report? The AMIEU were raided because of their involvement in whistleblowing, where they'd exposed drug running, firearms running, money counterfeiting and meat substitution, and all of those matters were picked up in the Jodhpur report and companies were named. This was organised crime by meat industry companies. Many of those companies named in that report are still operating. If you impair the capacity of whistleblowers and journalists and industrial organisations, you actually may well advance the capacity for criminals to act.
Then you've got the case of illegal abattoirs operating. Three weeks ago, the ABC broadcast footage on the nightly news in Melbourne of an illegal, unregistered abattoir where beasts were slaughtered and then placed in the backs of cars and distributed to families in Melbourne—a very serious public health risk.
These are issues that go to the public safety of our community. They're not about animal liberation. They're not about animal activists on farms. They're about our capacity to actually defend our community where the regulators in this country are overwhelmed and so not able to do their job properly and require the assistance of journalists and whistleblowers to protect the public. The AMIEU have been heavily involved in providing that community service. They're not a bunch of—what did you call them?—'terrorists'. They're good, hardworking, blue-collar Australians, protecting Australians. And you have put forward legislation that may seriously impede their capacity.
Then, of course, there are industrial rights. One day you could be on a plant as an organiser; the next day you could be laid off for trespassing and incitement. In this country, we've had example after example where officials have been prosecuted for incitement.
We have a long history of farmers who have taken an interest in public protest. The pipeline protest group in my state 10 years ago sought to march on the Premier of Victoria's farm and occupy his farm. In 2011 potato growers drove 50 tractors to blockade the McCain factory in Wendouree, to protest the way they were treated on potato pricing. In 2012 protesters against coal seam gas engaged in 10-day protests in the Kerry Valley in Queensland, against Arrow Energy. In 2013 farmers in Warrnambool staged protests against low milk prices. And we have seen action taken against Santos on coal seam gas. Just recently we've seen farmers, on water rights—aren't they equally entitled to present their case? Are they not threatened by measures such as those contained in bills such as this?
We've got a rich tradition of public protest in this country. So we've got to be wary of unintended consequences, and that's what this Senate report draws to our attention. It is the job of Senate committees to look at the detail—not to be carried away by the hype, the fake news and the very poor reporting on these matters but to look at the actual detail of legislation. Of course, you'll be told that this will never, ever happen; we'll never see this sort of legislation used improperly. Mr Mark Maley, the editorial policy manager of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, made this point to the committee:
The intention of the bill and the honest intention of the framers of the bill at the moment—I am perfectly prepared to believe that the intention of the bill is exactly as you've described it. But that doesn't necessarily control how it's going to be interpreted or used in potentially a very different political environment—a very different environment of public opinion. These things do have an impact on how these sorts of pieces of legislation can be used … But whenever legislation is done we have to think, 'How could this legislation potentially be misused?'
And we have the position that was put to us by the journalist from Right to Know and similarly from the Murdoch newspapers. The case that has to be put has to be seen in the context of how this legislation could be reasonably interpreted in other circumstances, because it's been very badly thought through.
As I said, I am very concerned about what it means for workers. We have seen throughout the history of this country how workers have been subject to various pieces of legislation that have been brought forward in one context and used entirely differently in another. I'm very concerned about the consequences for whistleblowers and journalists. I'm very concerned about what we know to be the long history of crime in the meat industry and the incapacity of the regulatory authorities to deal with that.
But I'm particularly concerned about the consequences for research facilities. We saw, when I was minister, the situation in which CSIRO facilities here in Canberra were destroyed. We know the situation there, where territory legislation was used in those circumstances. But the point is: why aren't they covered by this bill, if this is such a big issue? Why doesn't the 'use of agricultural land' definition go to that issue? Scientific research that is directly related to agriculture is undertaken in other facilities, but it doesn't come within a bull's roar of being dealt with.
This bill has been rushed into this parliament. The government's created expectations for some of its stakeholders that it'll be able to deliver on this. When you ask the Federal Police what extra resource is going to be put into enforcing this legislation, the answer is: none—no additional resource.
Whatever the political objectives of this government are—and I might be somewhat suspicious about its intent—what we can say is that the states and territories have clear responsibilities, and they have responsibilities for more-rigorous enforcement of their laws. They have an obligation to protect farmers but they also have an obligation to protect workers and their families. But to act in haste and to draft legislation which has been so badly thought through may well have quite serious unintended consequences that will be with us for some considerable time.
I always find it ironic when we hear from the conservative benches how we need to expand Commonwealth powers, given they spend so much time talking to us about the need for deregulation. This is yet another example where we're getting a bid to grow the Commonwealth, to expand the Commonwealth. This bill doesn't do the job that the bill's supporters claim it will. It needs extensive amendment. We'll soon see just how strong the government's bona fides are in that regard. If the government were genuinely concerned about animal welfare, it would at least follow the advice of the RSPCA, which says that we are miles behind international best practice. We've made no effort to come anywhere near international best practice. If the government were genuinely concerned about protecting farmers, it would at least provide the resources to the Federal Police to—
A point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. We have had 19 minutes and it is still not clear from Senator Carr's contribution whether the Labor Party would actually be supporting the bill. My impression was they were, but we've heard 19 minutes of him arguing against it. Perhaps in the last minute he might be able to clarify for us what his and the Labor Party's position is.
I will explain it to the ignorant minister at the table, who, clearly, should borrow my hearing aids, because he has enormous difficulty understanding even the most elementary propositions. He should also take the trouble to read the Senate report, which highlights the gross flaws in the government's approach.
What happens when you try to run these sorts of smears against people is you're likely to get a very strong response from the people you're seeking to smear. This is another example where the government has nothing serious to say about the future directions of the country and tries to come up with political gimmicks instead of trying to deal with the substantive problems that farmers and workers are facing in this country. With an industry that is of such importance to the economic performance of this country, you would have thought that the government would have done a much, much better job than this.
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I want to support this bill, yet I must, in loyalty to the farmers and the people of Queensland, expose a contradiction—and my comments will highlight that. My comments will also highlight a deepening unfolding crisis, and that will be at the core of what I have to say. May I say before Senator Carr leaves the chamber that I applaud his comments in many regards because they do need to be highlighted, and we look forward to seeing your party's amendments.
The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 will amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 to safeguard Australian farmers and primary production businesses from those who incite trespass or other property offences on agricultural land. Trespass into agricultural land has the potential to cause food contamination and breach biosecurity protocols. It can also lead to farmers and their families feeling unsafe on their own land and in their own homes—and in fact being unsafe.
The bill will address this by creating a new offence of using a carriage service like the internet to transmit, make available, publish or otherwise distribute material with the intention to incite another person to trespass on agricultural land. This offence would require that a person is reckless as to whether the other person's trespass or related conduct could cause detriment to a primary production business being carried out on the land.
The law would cover dairy and meat farmers but also other agricultural premises, such as abattoirs, meat exporters, fish farms, livestock saleyards and tree, fruit, vegetable and crop growers. This is a comprehensive defence of our people engaged in these vital businesses for our national security and, in fact, the nutrition of every Australian. This offence would apply whether or not actual trespass or detriment resulted from the incitement. A person found guilty of this offence could face up to 12 months imprisonment, and I say, 'Fair enough.'
The bill will also create an aggravated offence for those who use a carriage service to incite more serious forms of harm—property damage and destruction or theft from agriculture land. Vegan terrorists are causing havoc and actually putting lives at risk—not just animal lives but human lives. This offence and the substantial penalty proposed reflect the gravity of these more serious forms of conduct and the substantial loss of income that could follow. This offence will carry a maximum penalty of five years.
It is critical that journalists and those who lawfully disclose animal cruelty or other criminal activity where it exists in the agricultural industry are protected under the bill. For this reason, the bill contains appropriate exemptions for journalists and whistleblowers.
Now I'm going to speak to our farmers and to all Queenslanders. I am going to express their view on the core issue. You farmers, you Queenslanders, are a vital part of not only the Australian community but the world economy. You deserve to go about your business free from harassment and threats of harm. You deserve to feel safe in your own homes. There was a time when feeding the hungry was a good thing—not anymore. In this green nightmare world, feeding the hungry is being demonised. Farmers are being hounded from their properties, deprived of water, forced to pay power and water charges that are beyond common sense and made to pay for concocted imaginary damage to reefs hundreds and, in fact, thousands of kilometres away, with no evidence that the farming is doing any damage. Further, innocent farmers are being bashed at a time when they are facing severe drought and incredibly—and artificially—high energy costs. Not content with that level of persecution, antihumanists are now storming rural properties, destroying equipment, cutting water pipes, scaring the animals and even stealing or hurting animals. They're cutting brake lines on vehicles, which indicates that they don't seem to understand that human life is important.
These farms are often biosecurity zones. The ability of those properties to maintain their production, in accordance with the laws of the land for the protection of humans right across the country and internationally and in accordance with export requirements, is being compromised by these foolish zealots and ideologues. If this keeps up, the only agriculture in this country will be run by large corporate farms owned by multinational corporations. Do the Greens even think these things through?
This legislation does not make it illegal to protest. People can protest outside a property. People can protest in the cities. People can even protest here at Parliament House. One more thing: this bill still allows antihumanist food haters to protest at the ballot box, which is fundamental. That right has not been taken away. The only place these terrorists can't protest now is inside someone's home. I use those words because these protesters do not seem to comprehend that these properties are peoples' homes—farmers' homes, lawfully acquired residential premises. Would these protesters accept a pro-food demonstrator marching through their Newtown, Melbourne or West End share house, disconnecting the pipes and scaring the occupants? No, of course they wouldn't. But they would take that right away from others. They want to steal peoples' lawful freedom.
This reprehensible conduct was enabled and encouraged by the sharing of information online—including personal details such as farmers' names, addresses and workplaces—on websites like Aussie Farms, which, despite the name, is not about supporting farming; it is about shutting down Aussie farmers and their families. This bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019, will prevent the incitement of online hate against hardworking, decent farmers, and that is entirely appropriate. The introduction of the bill is an encouraging step towards protecting Australian farmers and agricultural businesses from trespass, property damage and theft incited through the online distribution of activist materials. It has been introduced as a deterrent for people considering entering farms, premises and other agricultural land illegally, and has wide-ranging support from farming communities and from Australians generally. One Nation will be supporting this bill.
However, we do call for the government to address other actions that are far, far more crippling and damaging to farmers in a state like Queensland that depends heavily on rural producers. Just like the trespassing on farming properties and agricultural processing plants, these actions are driven by activists without data, contradicting the real-world data, and these actions are driven by the same people that drive the destruction of farmers' property that we've talked about.
Let me talk first about property rights. The stealing of farmers' property rights without compensation, against our Constitution, was brought on by the UN's Kyoto protocol, was based on no data and was promoted by not only the Liberal government that started it federally but also the Labor governments that pushed it in Queensland. My heart goes out to the McDonald family at Charleville and many other families. Dan McDonald is branded a criminal because of the Queensland government legislation. A second issue is water—that is, the lack of infrastructure and the high prices of water, driven by the UN's Rio de Janeiro declaration in 1992 signed by the Keating government—again, no data; again, pushed by the Liberal and Labor Party policies. We now have people like Debbie Gibson in North Queensland not wanting to grow fodder in a drought because of high electricity prices. This brings me to energy: the UN's Kyoto protocol in 1996, the Rio declaration in 1992 and the Paris Agreement in 2015—again, all driven by the UN, a foreign body—based on no data, pushed by the Liberal and Labor parties, and affecting every single Australian and every small business who uses electricity. Then we've got carbon farming, driven by the UN's Kyoto protocol—again, based on no data and pushed by the Liberal and Labor parties.
My heart goes out to people like Cate Stuart and other farmers who are doing it tough, facing the onslaught of the banks as well as government at both state and federal levels. We've now got the farmers on the eastern coast of Queensland facing absurd legislation, supposedly to stop their soil run-off, chemical run-off and fertiliser run-off, driven by the UN's Rio de Janeiro declaration in 1992—again, based on no data and pushed by the Liberal and Labor duopoly. My heart goes out to people like Robert Rossiter and others right along the Queensland coast, who are facing devastation because of this. Then my heart goes out to people like Timmsey in Innisfail and other fishermen—and fishermen right around Australia, not just in Queensland—who are being decimated by the UN Rio declaration's consequences—again, based on no data and driven by the Liberal-Labor duopoly for many years. And then I think of the tireless work of Bruce Wagner, who has exposed the Queensland government's ridiculous trigger mapping, which is just a sham and steals farmers' property rights. My support goes to Bruce, because the catastrophe that he and other farmers are facing is driven by the UN's Rio declaration in 1992—again, based on no data and, again, pushed largely by the Labor Party.
As the Green Shirts Movement is saying in Queensland—and as we've been saying and as Senator Pauline Hanson has been saying since 1993—this is an ideological assault on rural Australia. We need reversal with urgent action to relieve the pressure on farmers and to restore basic rights and freedoms. What the government are doing in imposing themselves on businesses is no different from the activists—vegan terrorists—imposing themselves on farmers. Farmers care for the land and they care for the animals. It's in their livelihood to look after both the land and the animals. I want to commend Steve Andrew, the One Nation member for Mirani, for the work that he is doing to restore the natural environment by working with farmers.
There is another topic causing severe stress to farmers, and that is the false and unfounded statements from the Greens and the ALP on climate, and these statements drive crippling policies that in fact drive the government of this country. I know many people in the LNP who advise me that they do not believe the UN's fraudulent lies pushing unfounded climate alarm. These are driving devastating policy and underpin the destruction of primary industry and our country's productive capacity—and our country's future productive capacity.
I could talk for hours, in great detail, on solid, empirical evidence proving that human carbon dioxide is not affecting the climate and does not affect the climate. I will, though, focus on just three points that the Greens-Liberal-Labor-Nats are pushing as a result of other activists' work. They're supporting activists here, not shutting them down. For now, I will simply supply some basic facts. Let me explain the basic claim that activists are pushing on climate. What they're saying is that the sun's energy comes down to the Earth, whether it be the land or the ocean, and warms the Earth, and that re-radiates energy out. That is then trapped, so they say, by carbon dioxide molecules and re-radiated back.
Now, this is absurd. The atmosphere is cooler than the land's surface and it's supposed to be warming the land surface. Let me explain. The atmosphere cools the Earth's surface. Through contact and conduction and through convection, it removes heat at an accelerated rate from Earth's surface. It cools the Earth's surface. Yet activists have convinced the government that the atmosphere, which cools the surface, warms the surface. It is patently absurd for another reason: carbon dioxide is a stable compound not capable of generating heat, not capable of trapping heat.
Regardless, let's just look at the actual physical quantities in the atmosphere. It is absurdly low: 0.04 per cent of the air is carbon dioxide. That's four molecules in 10,000 molecules of air, meaning one molecule of carbon dioxide in every 2,500 molecules of air. Nature, every year, produces 32 times more carbon dioxide than all human production of carbon dioxide, including the animals we farm, and Australians produce just one 1.3 per cent of the human carbon dioxide. That leads to one molecule of carbon dioxide from humans in 85,000 molecules of air. Even that is ridiculous and meaningless because, in 2009, carbon dioxide produced by humans fell as a result of the recession around the world, and yet the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continued to increase. Why? Because nature controls carbon dioxide levels. There is 50 times more carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans, in dissolved form, than in the entire atmosphere. Slight changes in temperature lead to liberation or absorption of that carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So nature has complete control of the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and it doesn't matter what we do to stop humans producing it; we cannot affect the level in the atmosphere. What it means is that, in our supposed work—driven by the Greens, followed by the Labor Party, followed by the Liberal-Nats—even if we wanted to cut carbon dioxide it wouldn't have any impact on the level in the atmosphere.
Hard, measured data, though, and physics show that carbon dioxide does not drive temperature on any time interval. On many time intervals, temperature drives carbon dioxide levels, as I've just explained. And, if we could control Earth's thermostat, we would increase the temperature—because warming is beneficial. If we could control our air's carbon dioxide level, we would increase it because carbon dioxide promotes plant growth. Hard data shows that Australia was warmer in the 1880s and 1890s than today; it was warmer a thousand years ago.
Why am I saying this? Because the government and the whole of this parliament are being driven by activists. There is no agency or university or person anywhere in the world who has provided the empirical evidence proving human carbon dioxide affects the climate and needs to be cut—not the CSIRO; not BOM; not NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, nor its head Gavin Schmidt, because I have interrogated all of these and none of them can provide the evidence. The UK Met Office has none. Its Hadley climate research centre has none. The UN climate body, or supposed climate body, the IPCC, has none. Its core chapters for 2001, 2007 and 2013—that's chapters 12, 9 and 10—provide no evidence, yet we're following activists. I have challenged the Greens to produce their evidence. Three times Senator Larissa Waters has run from my challenge to debate. Now her leader, Senator Di Natale, is on the run. I challenge anyone in the Greens—
Honourable senators interjecting—
including the laughing hyenas, to provide the empirical scientific evidence—the specific hard data, the measured observations, the physical observations within a logical framework—needed to prove human carbon dioxide affects climate and needs to be cut.
We can thank the farmers, not just in Queensland but right around this country, for being the driving force that causes Australia to absorb more carbon dioxide than it produces. But no-one talks about that. This is a political push to drive an unelected socialist government. Maurice Strong founded it back in 1972 and has promoted it since. Neither he nor his useful idiots—to use Lenin's words—like the Greens have ever provided the evidence behind their climate claims, which simply serve the UN's campaign to control land, resources and lifestyles to control people. The UN's Agenda 21 is the template. Richard Court, in rebuilding the Constitution, Rebuilding the Federation, shows how the UN is doing it. He wrote that in 1992. This is the only book that really matters, because it is Australia's Constitution, and we need to return to it.
But worse—not only are these UN pushes, like Agenda 21, destroying farming, destroying our country and stealing our governance and our sovereignty; they are causing us to waste time and take attention and resources away from real and serious environmental and humanitarian crises. I love our state. I love our country. But it hurts me to see shops shut, from TI in the north to Tugun in the south and Thargomindah in the west. From Cooktown to Coolangatta to Cunnamulla, people are doing it tough.
The real crisis is driven by activism—the fraud and corruption of climate science, the destruction of governance and sovereignty and the smashing of Queenslanders and their state at the hands of dishonest Liberal, Labor and Nats policymakers, marching to beat of the Greens' Pied Piper. We commend this legislation as a first step in facing off to the activists. But One Nation will continue to hold this government and other parties accountable to bring back our country for all Australians. We are the only party working to expose this and we will continue to do so.
I note on rising to speak to this bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019, that this is not my first speech. On this matter I rise because it is close to home, literally. I live on a mixed farming property that combines intensive livestock, rangeland livestock and cropping enterprises. I'm lucky, because to date I have not had to drive through activists as I do the school bus run. I have not woken to find that activists have vandalised property and harassed animals near my home. I've not had my address published on an activist website to promote trespass and vandalism. But I do live in fear that it could happen any day, and not just to me and my family but to the families that also live on that same property, who may be innocently targeted by this sort of behaviour.
I thank Senator Roberts for noting that this bill is not about banning legitimate and lawful protest—protest that can occur on public lands. This bill is about banning people using a carriage service to incite trespass, which is breaking the law. This bans people from using a carriage service to encourage people to trespass on private property.
Trespass is already against the state laws; I acknowledge that. I commend the states that have already taken actions against animal activists to strengthen their trespass laws, such as New South Wales; who are recognising at long last how important this is not only to farmers, their families, their employees and their businesses but also to biosecurity and good animal welfare protocols. I implore those states to thoroughly enforce those laws and I implore the judiciary to apply effective penalties, but, until those state laws are strengthened and until those penalties reflect the seriousness of the crime, we must in this place do what we can to prevent the promotion and incitement of these organised and malicious crimes.
I have friends who have been targeted. I have a dairy farmer friend who used to proudly show her property and her enterprise to people on request—she was proud of the work she did—until one day she became the victim of an attack. It turned out that one of those visitors that she showed through her dairy was actually just there to scope the joint and later returned to install hidden cameras. She now has installed her own CCTV cameras as a defence against future activist invasions. Another friend owns and manages an internationally recognised sustainable piggery. This piggery has won international environmental awards for its sustainability. It is a carbon-neutral piggery. She lives there with her young family. She has been targeted by activists 10 times; 10 times they've had their property broken into. In one instance the activists broke in during the dead of night. Breaching strict biosecurity protocols and risking the health of the whole herd of pigs, they woke the resting animals, and those that didn't wake of their own accord were poked and prodded until they woke squawking and screaming. The distress they caused for the animals got exactly the results they wanted: footage that they could release not to the authorities, to actually report animal welfare concerns, but to the media.
But what do you expect? These campaigns are not about truth; they are about misguided ideals. If these activists were truly concerned about animal welfare, they would not break into farms and collect hidden footage that they would then hold onto and release only at a time that suited their media strategy. If they were genuine and they had genuine concerns about animal welfare issues, they would report it immediately to the right authorities. In New South Wales we have a very strong relationship with the RSPCA, who thoroughly investigates any reported concerns about animal welfare needs. Perpetrators, when proven, can be prosecuted, and that is as it should be.
But on that point I do note that this bill does provide exemptions for both journalists and whistleblowers to ensure that legitimate media reports or whistleblowers who lawfully disclose allegations through the correct channels are not affected. That is also as it should be. Those that promote farm invasions do not differentiate between farm enterprises. If you look at the Aussie Farms online map, it includes intensive livestock as well as organic and free-range businesses. It lists both family farms and corporate farms alike. Apparently they are all bad.
Not only do the actions of activists have animal health and welfare consequences, breaching biosecurity protocols and stressing animals, but there are human consequences as well. Just this year, eight innocent people in Victoria became unemployed overnight when the owners of Gippy Goat Cafe decided it was not worth the continued harassment to keep their cafe open. This business, a small family-owned cafe in regional Victoria that employed eight local people, next to a goat dairy, was invaded at least twice and had its livestock stolen. Its staff were harassed by phone, and customers were harassed online in an ongoing and targeted campaign until it simply became too much. In this case, one of the activists who broke into the business—and stole a goat, mind you!—was caught and charged and fined $2. That's right—$2 for theft of livestock. Imagine if I broke into a jeweller's and stole a diamond ring and stalked and harassed staff. Do you think I would be forgiven with a $2 fine? What we are talking about here is breaking and entering and theft. It is not animal activism; it is breaking and entering and theft. And in this day and age, when we do not tolerate bullying and harassment and when we are trying actively to stamp it out in our schools, workplaces, homes and communities, why do we accept bullying and harassment in the name of animal activism? I do not buy it.
Australian farmers and their staff have a right to feel safe in their businesses and in their homes, and I have a right to feel safe taking my children to the school bus. Farmers should be able to carry out their business without the threat of activists invading their homes and stealing property. By all means, if you think a farmer is doing the wrong thing, report it through the legitimate authorities, but most farmers are doing the right thing and they should not have to fear animal activists illegally entering their properties, potentially bringing contaminants and diseases onto their properties that could wipe out an entire farming operation. Associated businesses like feedlots and abattoirs need to be able to carry out their business and employ people, providing jobs and economic activity in our regions and putting food on our tables, without fear of attack and obstruction which risk not only the safety of their staff but also the safety of the activists.
These new laws make it an offence to publish material via a carriage service with the intention to incite trespass on agricultural land or associated businesses. It sends a clear message to activists: if you use personal information to incite trespass, you risk jail. I reiterate that this does not prevent people holding legitimate protests about their concerns, but it does prevent people inciting trespass, which is breaking the law. This is what we can do in this place to protect the people in our nation who produce our food and fibre, and I commend it to the chamber.
We should call a spade a spade. The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 is antiprotest legislation pure and simple, or, to be equally accurate, it is ag-gag legislation. In a paper published in the Griffith Journal of Law & Human Dignity last year, Elizabeth Englezos described ag-gag legislation in the following terms:
… laws which effectively 'gag' or reduce discussion of some of the more controversial aspects of animal agriculture and its practices. By preventing public oversight and criticism of factory farms and their practices, ag-gag laws can allow some of the more egregious forms of animal cruelty to continue. Evidence suggests that ag-gag laws have prevented external scrutiny and may contribute to reduced animal welfare under the guise of animal welfare protection.
Ms Englezos also said, when the predecessor to this bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015, was introduced:
… Australia's proposed ag-gag laws provide an unnecessary criminal sanction which disproportionately affects activists and whistle-blowers and has a chilling effect on free political communication regarding animal welfare concerns. Prevention of legitimate public discourse and debate over food production and the treatment of animals during the food production process may also undermine the democratic process.
In fact, this is actually the primary intent of the bill that we're debating here today—to stifle free political communication around animal welfare concerns and to try to discourage those who would engage in such free political communications to stand up on behalf of animals who remain voiceless in this country, apart from, in this parliament, the efforts of the Australian Greens.
If this bill was genuinely about the safety and security of farmers and their families, as the government and some Labor members have tried to convince us, it would actually say so in the explanatory memorandum—but it doesn't say that. And if government was really serious about acting on the concerns of farmers, as my friend and colleague Senator Faruqi pointed out in her second reading contribution, they would be actually acting on what farmers are saying is the issue of highest concern: illegal pig farming and pig dogging on their properties. But no: the government's not bringing in laws to address that; they're bringing in laws that attack animal activists and, in doing so, risk being ruled out of order by the High Court because of the way they constrain the implied freedom of political communication that exists in our Constitution.
This is by no means the first time we've seen such chilling legislation tabled by a conservative in an Australian parliament, and it's not even anywhere near the first time we've seen antiprotest legislation directly aimed at activists. In my home state, the Tasmanian Liberal government introduced the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014. I was in the parliament at the time, and I led the parliamentary campaign against this legislation on behalf of a whole movement of people in Tasmania—the environment movement that those laws were aimed directly at. The Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 is yet another act with an Orwellian title that could have come straight from the Ministry of Love: protecting big agribusiness from peaceful protests and their non-violent actions, protecting big agribusiness from the protestors—who are actually the ones most often acted violently against—protecting big agribusiness from cameras and protecting people from learning the truth about what happens in Australia's factory farming sector.
This bill is, quite clearly and quite patently, interference run by government on behalf of big agribusiness to shield that industry from greater public transparency and scrutiny. Will this interference work? Well, in Tasmania it did not. In fact, it's actually made protesters more determined to exercise their right to protest and to engage in free political communication. The passage of the Tasmanian antiprotest legislation quickly saw several arrests, including the arrest of former Greens leader and senator Dr Bob Brown. Although the Tasmanian government ultimately dropped its charges against Dr Brown and his co-arrestee, Ms Jessica Hoyt, they continued their High Court challenge to protect future environmental actions, arguing that the antiprotest legislation under which they were arrested violated the implied right to free speech and political communication in Australia's Constitution, and the High Court supported that argument. Quoting the High Court, Dr Brown said:
The high court has said: 'There is a right to political expression and we will uphold it.' You can't just start jailing people on account of their political beliefs or peaceful actions they might take to uphold those beliefs.
This is exactly the concern that many legal experts have raised in the inquiry into the bill we're currently debating, which was probably best summarised by the Law Council of Australia when it submitted this:
… the new offences may impinge on the implied freedom of political communication in that the breadth of conduct captured by proposed offences may overreach what is necessary for the effective operation of a system of representative and responsible government.
I make the obvious point that, since the passage of the antiprotest legislation in Tasmania's parliament, for years there has been a blockade in takayna/Tarkine, run by the Bob Brown Foundation, which is, on the face of it, in clear breach of those laws and yet which the government has failed to respond to on the ground. Just for the avoidance of doubt, I salute those brave defenders of takayna/Tarkine. I've been to that action myself. I got myself 20 or 30 metres up a beautiful old rainforest tree on a typical north-western Tasmanian day and looked out on some of the most awesome carbon-rich forests in a landscape so rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage. I want to place on the record my gratitude—and the gratitude, I know, of all other Australian Greens senators—for the actions that those brave defenders of takayna/Tarkine are conducting.
The government's suggesting that the current bill we're debating will protect the agribusiness industry. However, social research has shown that ag-gag laws erode trust in farmers and farming. This is the main problem in regard to this particular element of the government's argument: you do not build trust in our communities by putting up roadblocks to advocacy and information. By shielding big agribusiness from greater transparency and scrutiny, the government will only create more distrust of big agribusiness in our community. This will just further energise activists to seek transparency, accountability and truth.
As many speakers have pointed out, there are already state and territory laws covering the criminal acts identified in this bill. It is already illegal to make threats, menace or harass. There are already laws against single party surveillance. Theft, burglary and destruction of property are already criminal offences. There is already a Commonwealth Biosecurity Act. The Law Council of Australia, while calling on the government to justify the need for this bill, argued—and I completely agree—that there is no evidence that the existing laws are incapable of addressing the concerns that motivate the passage of the bill. There is no evidence whatsoever, and the government has completely failed to make the case for this bill.
This bill is not about agricultural protection; it is about authoritarianism, pure and simple. It's a bill about silencing public dissent and political communication. It continues the accelerating march down the dangerous path to a police state in this country and ultimately to a fascist state in this country. I want to pause there and reflect on my use of the word 'fascist' in this context. When I've used this word in the past, plenty of journalists in this country have suggested that in fact that is not a word that should be used in the Australian political debate. I say this: there is a live, raging debate in the United States at the moment about fascism. It is a debate that is being engaged in by senators and other congress members and activists in the US, and it's about time we had that debate in Australia. The reason I use that word is that we are seeing the rise of the rot in this country at the moment. If you want to fight that rise—and it must be fought—it has to be called out. And, if you're going to call it out, you have to name it up. So I'm going to keep naming it up, because it is just so important that we resist the rise of the extreme right in this country. When I say 'extreme right' I include a number of senators who sit in this place representing the Liberal and National parties.
This bill imposes stiffer penalties for certain people engaging in certain already existing criminal activities, thereby treating some people more harshly than others. This is blatant persecution and it is totally unjust. Should this bill be enacted, no other comparable industry will enjoy this kind of legislative protection being offered by this government to big agribusiness—and in saying 'big agribusiness', because of the definitions in this act, I include big forestry. As someone who was actually arrested standing up against the big forestry operations in Tasmania in the mid-1980s, I say this represents yet another disturbing move against dissent and articulates very clearly why we need a charter of rights in this country.
There have been 1,700 environmental activists killed just in this century alone around the world, just for standing up for the environment—1,700 brave environmental activists who paid with their lives for their activism and for their advocacy. In my home state of Tasmania, I've seen too many activists, their families and their properties being threatened. I've seen people being beaten. I've seen people terrified for their very lives—again, for standing up for nature and standing up for biodiversity and the environment. But what I haven't seen is a corresponding concern from the major parties for those activists' welfare and protection, or for the welfare and protection of animal rights activists like Cara Garrett and James Warden. These animal welfare groups—and the public debate they seek to inform—are exactly the people that the government is attacking in this legislation.
This bill is the latest in a long line of chilling and draconian bills introduced by this government—no doubt paid for in full and in advance by corporate donations from big agribusiness to LNP coffers. Where is all this going to end—this slow march towards authoritarianism, totalitarianism and fascism in this country? Big agribusiness is already calling for an expansion of this bill to cover other industries and activists, involving railway, port and forestry facilities. Make no mistake: this is the thin edge of the wedge.
If people don't believe that laws can be used for purposes beyond those which the government claim are the motivation for their introduction, I just refer people to the metadata laws passed through this place a few years ago—they are currently under review—with the combined votes of the LNP and ALP senators in this parliament. We were told these laws were necessary in the fight against terrorism, and they are now used by local governments to surveil citizens, to bust them for having unregistered dogs. That's the kind of bracket creep we're seeing in this country. The Australian community is becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about the treatment of animals in agribusiness. Proposing ag-gag laws in this climate will further damage the reputation of Australia's livestock industries and risks increasing tensions between consumers and producers.
I want to mention briefly the Australian Labor Party here. We heard a fantastic tub-thumping speech from Senator Kim Carr, pointing out the massive and manifest flaws in this legislation, just before he and his colleagues are going to line up to vote these ag-gag laws through this parliament. I don't have enough time to go through Labor's report out of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry, but it was a very, very good report from Labor senators, pointing out the massive flaws in this bill, pointing out the potential for this legislation to be misused and pointing out the obvious ideological motivation behind this legislation. But, of course, the Labor Party is going to collapse in a screaming heap and vote this legislation through later today. What is actually the point of the Labor Party anymore? They're like the long-lost left wing of the LNP. They stand for nothing anymore.
I issue this warning to the Australian Labor Party: you have to stand for something in politics. You have to find your true values and stand by those values, and people, even though they may not agree with you on every issue, will respect you for that. The Labor Party is losing respect hand over fist. The big danger for Australia, for nature in this country, for biodiversity in this country, for the campaign against the increase of fossil fuel mining and export in this country, is that every time the Labor Party lies down the political debate shifts further to the right. And Labor, in capitulating on this legislation, is contributing to that shift. This bill has actually been described as 'a stunt' and as 'virtue signalling' by Senator Murray Watt, who is about to line up with his colleagues and vote it through.
I mentioned earlier that this bill is a living, breathing argument for the introduction of a charter of rights in Australia. We are the only liberal democracy in the world that does not have some form of charter or bill of rights. We are continually seeing passed through this place legislation that erodes fundamental rights and freedoms that we used to send Australians overseas to fight to defend. We are now seeing them eroded hand over fist because we don't have a proper—or in fact any—charter or bill of rights in this country. Despite the government's rhetoric, this bill is not about strengthening the rights of farmers to safety and security. This bill is about weakening the rights of people and organisations to engage in political communication that draws attention to the rights or lack thereof of livestock animals.
I move a second reading amendment to this bill:
Leave out all words after "that", insert:
"(1) The bill be withdrawn and redrafted to deal with the numerous and significant unintended consequences that have been outlined in the Labor Senators' additional comments to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's report on this bill.
(2) The redrafted bill, on introduction, be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report."
In March this year, on the Darling Downs, a goat-farming family had a knock on the door from the local police. They were told that a group of militant vegan animal activists was heading their way and likely to attempt to enter their property. Marcus Jensen, his wife, Shannon, and their toddler son were going about their business of raising goats for dairy—something their family has done ethically for 30 years and counting without incident. The National Farmers Federation puts the figure of family farms in the agricultural industry at 90 per cent. Farms are not just businesses; for that 90 per cent, they are also the family home. You can imagine how frightened the Jensens were to find that their property had been published on the Aussie Farms website, a site with one purpose only: to show extreme vegan activists where to go to invade, to intimidate, to steal livestock and to disrupt. Of course, those aren't the words they'd use; they'd say 'protest'.
I'm a big believer in free speech, so I feel really strongly about the importance of the right to protest. But there is a world of difference between peaceful protest that does no harm and invading private properties en masse with masks covering faces, in camouflage gear and carrying black bags with plans to steal, to record and to scare. By all means, protest loudly and peacefully in a public place where you cause no harm to others. But to scare children in their own homes, create biosecurity risks and harm animals and yet call it simple protest is nothing more than a lie.
Last month the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which I chair, held hearings on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019, and we had the pleasure of meeting Mr Chris Delforce who runs the Aussie Farms Map website. He makes no apologies for the invasion of privacy. While he publishes a small, fine-print disclaimer on his website that says he doesn't condone illegal behaviour, when you speak to him, as we in the committee did, he was so much more candid. He said:
I think trespass is an unfortunate necessity.
Mr Delforce went on to admit that trespass is a crime under state laws already, but he made it clear he didn't intend to comply with the law. One law for him and the activists like him, and another for the rest of the Australian community, it seems. In January this year, The Land newspaper asked Mr Delforce if he would remove people from the map who asked to be removed. Mr Delforce said: 'That is not a request I will respect'. It shouldn't be necessary to beg for your personal privacy and safety, especially at home. It is because of Mr Delforce and people like him that we now need a law to criminalise the use of a carriage service to incite trespass or to incite property damage and theft.
Even if you did put aside the safety and personal security aspects of 150 people barging into a farm while you stand there facing them alone or just with your children, what about the biosecurity risks these activists present to farms? Biosecurity Queensland identifies 99 notifiable diseases which can potentially single-handedly destroy a farm business and bring an entire industry to a standstill. These includes diseases which over the last 10 years-plus have had a huge impact on industries in Queensland and throughout Australia: Australian bat lyssavirus, avian influenza, bovine virus diarrhoea, classical swine fever, duck plague, tick-borne encephalitis, equine flu, Hendra virus, Newcastle disease, salmonella—I could keep going. The risks are real.
I mention this because another image that really stuck with me from the Aussie Farms website was of a young woman, not wearing coveralls, not wearing any protective gear of any kind, holding a chicken she was about to steal. There are rigorous biosecurity measures in place on Australian farms that are vital to their commercial survival but are also vital to the reputation of Australian agricultural industries. It's part of the reason Australian produce is the envy of the world. So, when these militant, vegan activists enter, not wearing proper gear and purporting to impose their own, different, ways of measuring and protecting against risk, they not only jeopardise that reputation but the reality is they also present the real risk of these diseases being introduced. And they do it to steal. They steal animals that don't belong to them and they call it 'liberation'.
Another image on the website is of a calf in the back of a sedan being 'liberated'. It's stolen. Arguably, that's animal abuse, because I'm pretty sure that the measures that are normally in place for the safe transport of livestock weren't being applied in that case. In fact, it's quite often that the welfare of animals is jeopardised by the very activists who claim to enter in the name of the animals' welfare and safety. We heard from a pig farmer named Ean in the course of the committee's hearings. His farm was invaded by militant animal-activists. In doing so, the activists caused great disruption and distress to his pregnant sows. And he experienced, as a consequence of the activists' invasion, the death of many piglets who, in their distress, panicked and ended up in troughs of water and drowned. He didn't know about it until the morning because, in that circumstance, he hadn't been woken by their covert entry. They had snuck in without him realising until the morning. Animals died because of the actions of these militant activists—not exactly what I'd call an act of compassion.
Quite clearly, there is great potential for carriage services to be used by activists to incite others to commit acts like these. Australian farmers, most of whom operate relatively small businesses, shouldn't be subject to the illegal invasion of their property and their privacy through the misuse of services like the internet. So we need action to stop this lawless activism from occurring in a way that is harming the activities of Australian farmers. We need to let them continue their good work of feeding our nation and feeding the world, and we need to allow their families to feel safe in their homes.
The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill will amend the Criminal Code to include two new offences which criminalise the use of a carriage service to incite trespass on agricultural land. The first offence would apply where a person uses a carriage service to transmit, make available, publish or otherwise distribute material with the intent to incite another person to trespass on agricultural land. The person would need to be reckless as to whether that other person's trespass or related conduct could cause detriment to the primary production business being carried out on that land, and a person found guilty of that offence could face up to 12 months imprisonment. The second offence would apply where a person uses a carriage service to transmit, make available, publish or otherwise distribute material with the intent to incite another person to unlawfully damage or destroy property or commit theft on agricultural land. A person guilty of that offence could face up to five years imprisonment, reflecting the more serious nature of that conduct.
These amendments would cover dairy and meat farmers and other primary producers across the supply chain, such as abattoirs, meat exporters, feedlots and saleyards. Most importantly, these laws will protect farming families. They build upon the work done by the government already to protect Australian farmers from these activists. We've prescribed already Aussie Farms, the activist website inciting all of this mess, as being required to observe all of the requirements of the Privacy Act and we've encouraged the privacy commissioner to pay attention to the Aussie Farms website. Additionally, the government has written to state counterparts encouraging them to examine and, where appropriate, prosecute the trespass offences that are already on the books of our states and territories.
The Morrison government will always stand shoulder to shoulder with Australian farmers who sacrifice so much and give so much to this nation. These militant activists are not above the law, despite their misapprehensions. We will do everything in our power to deter militant animal activists from infringing the rights of farmers, from risking the safety of farmers and their families, from risking the welfare of their livestock, from causing biosecurity risks with the potential to damage entire agricultural industries and from breaking laws, including laws against trespass, harassment and theft of property. I commend this bill to the Senate.
Protests have played a major positive role in Australia's history, and when we come together to speak up for the voiceless, to stand for justice and to protect our environment, we can bring about real change. The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 is not about animal rights activism; it's an attack on our right to protest. It's an attack on our right to be able to come together and achieve real change. I protested as part of the Franklin blockade. I was a leader in the East Gippsland forest campaign. These were incredible moments, working with others in the community to protect our precious natural environment and to make a real difference. Today, there are national parks on the Errinundra Plateau and the magnificent Rodger River forests that are protected because of our campaigns. South-west Tasmania is World Heritage and the Franklin River is protected. That incredible natural heritage is safe because of our protests and is being preserved for future generations.
Protesters have brought about positive change throughout Australian history in a whole range of areas, not just environment protests. There are plenty of those protests, of course. There's the antinuclear movement, the March in March and so many more. Yes, many of these protests are on public land, and so they won't be directly impacted by this bill. But sometimes protests are on private land, and sometimes it's not just animal rights activists, as legitimate as their activism usually is, and it's not just environmentalists. Sometimes, in fact, it's farmers who are protesting. In 1985, for example, 45,000 farmers gathered on the lawns of Parliament House to protest. Lock the Gate is an alliance of over 120,000 supporters, including farmers, and we support their right to protest against fracking and to protect their farmland from the impact of fracking. If these farmers were protesting, if they were potentially trespassing on other private land, they would be affected by this bill and the draconian penalties that are in this bill.
In the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee report on this bill, the Labor Party acknowledged in their comments that there are multiple instances of farmers protesting in more recent years. In 2011, Ballarat farmers protesting about lower potato prices drove their tractors to the McCain factory in Wendouree. Warrnambool farmers staged protests over low milk prices in 2013. In 2014 a Coonamble farmer locked himself to a gate to disrupt Santos's coal seam gas operations in the Pilliga forest. Yes, these were on agricultural land. These are the sorts of protests, these are the sorts of actions—to protect our rights, to protect our environment, to protect the health of our community into the future—that are going to be drastically impacted by the measures in this bill.
Another area which is potentially affected by this bill is action that unions and workers and concerned people may take about agriculture labourers who are being exploited, people on temporary work visas—and, Deputy President, you and I were on a committee together, looking at the exploitation of people on temporary work visas—who are often holed up in incredibly poor-quality accommodation, being exploited dawn to dusk, working long, long hours in those horticultural operations absolutely outside the law. Potentially, anybody that wanted to put a spotlight on that sort of activity would be caught up by this law. If unions sent out an email to their workers to say, 'Why don't you come and have a look at what's going on here?' and if there's an attempt to gather evidence about what's going on here and, to do so, a need to trespass on private land to shine a light, to gather that evidence to see the levels of exploitation that are going on, those activities will be caught up by this draconian bill.
In this debate, Labor have made some excellent contributions, picking up on the concerns that they have about this bill. I call upon the Labor Party to join with us in trying to stop this bill, this outrageous piece of legislation, here in this Senate. Labor's second reading amendment notes, in fact, that there are 'a range of potential unintended consequences that could flow from the operation of new criminal offences contained in this bill', and 'calls on the government to carefully monitor the operation of the new laws'. We need to be doing more than this. This is bad legislation. This legislation needs to be stopped. If we had Labor joining the Greens and Centre Alliance and other crossbench senators here, we could stop this legislation in its tracks. We know that this government wants to attack our rights. We know that they have got a history of attacking protesters and attacking our civil rights, but we need the support of other parts of this Senate to stop this bad legislation in its tracks.
Senator McKim has spoken about the concerns we have with this bill from a legislative perspective, and the Law Council of Australia has raised significant concerns about whether this bill impinges on the implied freedom of political communications. There are concerns about the proportionality of this legislation, because there are already laws that prevent trespassing. When people trespass on private land, they know the risks they face. They know there's the potential that they will be caught. They know there's the potential that they will be charged. They know they may have to 'have their day in court' to explain why they took that action, and they know that, in court, there are potentially consequences for their actions. We think that those existing trespass laws strike a good balance and are adequate.
As I have noted, these laws, potentially, will impact upon farmers wanting to take action to ensure that their rights are protected. We of course support the rights to safety and security of all farmers, as we do for all members of our community.
Sustainable farming is fundamental to food security, environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation and adaptation. We, as the Greens, support farmers. We know the environment that they operate in and we know how central they are to a healthy Australia in providing the food that we all rely upon. That is why, at the last election, we announced $100 million in funding to drought-affected communities and a reversing of the coalition's cuts to Landcare.
But this is not a bill about farmers. It's a bill about weakening our civil and political rights. It's a bill about weakening the power of non-government organisations and activists and taking away their voice. This bill undermines a set of fundamental rights without doing anything meaningful to protect farmers. That is why the Greens are opposing this legislation.
I rise today to speak on the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019. The Morrison government is committed to keeping Australian farmers and their families safe and allowing them to go about their business without harassment and invasion of their property. Farmers and primary producers are the backbone of our economy and incredibly important to our regional communities, including in my own state of Tasmania.
As a government, we are backing our farmers through major investments in infrastructure, delivering trade agreements which open up new markets for our farmers' produce, delivering the multibillion-dollar Future Drought Fund to secure our farmers' future and many other investments to support farmers to grow their business. Our government has a plan to lift agriculture, fisheries and forestry to a $100 billion industry by the year 2030. In my own state of Tasmania, we have a significant role to play in achieving that aim, and that's why we are investing $100 million for new irrigation schemes, which will dramatically increase the productivity of large areas of agricultural land.
As a nation, we have the best farmers in the world, which is why we have the best produce, the best meat and the best seafood in the world coming from Australia. But it's never easy for our farmers, with the challenges of drought, flood and fire and the variables of global market conditions. That's why the last thing our farmers need is law-breaking activists making it harder for them to do their job.
Unfortunately, in recent years we've seen a disturbing trend of radical activist groups choosing to organise and carry out trespass onto agricultural properties, chaining themselves to farming equipment and doing whatever they can to disrupt the lawful business of farmers and producers. For some reason, certain groups of people who choose not to eat meat believe that their dietary choices give them a moral superiority and the right to trespass on agricultural property and steal livestock in an attempt to convert all of us to a vegetarian diet.
The bill which we are debating today introduces new offences for the incitement, via carrier service, of trespass, property damage or theft on agricultural land. The bill introduces serious criminal penalties to ensure that farmers and their families are protected, with offenders facing up to five years imprisonment if they break these laws.
The vast majority of Australians—and, I hope, the vast majority of those in this Senate chamber—would agree that farmers should be protected from trespass, property damage, property theft and biosecurity threats which can result from deliberate, organised invasions of their properties. It's clear that these actions are not just the result of a couple of local activists banding together and deciding to cause trouble at their nearest farm. They are organised activities, by groups who are deliberately and methodically targeting farmers in the meat and livestock industries.
A recent example of this was the publication of the names and addresses of farmers by the protest group Aussie Farms in a deliberate attempt to incite trespass and harassment which appalled fair-minded Australians. This campaign directly targeted not just the farmer or property owner but also their families and children, who often live at the same address. Imagine, just for a moment, being a farmer and having to explain to your children that your name and address have been published online and groups of strangers are intending to break onto your property. Imagine just how traumatic and invasive that must be for those families, whose livelihood is dependent on their farming businesses.
But this isn't just an imaginary hypothetical. This sort of terror has occurred on our farmers' properties. For example, Australian dairy farmers have reported that farmers are scared to leave their elderly parents at home to take care of the farm in case of activist incursions on their property. It's an appalling situation that, in a country where we have free speech, where we have the right to protest and where we have a multitude of media and social media avenues to express views about these issues and engage in dignified debate, these arrogant, entitled activists feel the need to resort to trespass and break-ins which, quite understandably, cause fear and concern among people's families and children who live on the property.
The overwhelming majority of Australians, including those in my own state of Tasmania, are disgusted with this behaviour, and they welcome the government's commitment to strengthen laws to stop these actions. There are many areas of the law where it is an offence to incite or organise criminal behaviour, and it is appropriate that we respond to clear evidence of organised criminal activity by formulating laws that target those who are responsible, and that is what this bill we are debating today is seeking to do. Having listened to hours of contributions from activists during the hearings of the Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which inquired into this bill, about why they didn't support the bill, I must say that I found these arguments remarkably thin. We were told consistently by activists that existing state laws against trespass are already adequate. Indeed, the contributions we've had from the Greens today have reiterated the view of their party—that they think state laws are already adequate and are already targeting the risk of this behaviour.
In what sense are these laws adequate, when we've seen a targeted escalation of farm trespass activity as a result of publishing this sort of information online? They're clearly not adequate to deter activists from farm invasion, and existing laws clearly do nothing to stop activist groups from using the internet and social media to coordinate trespass and invasion of farm property. Furthermore, it's an incredibly self-serving argument for activists to say that a law that they are prepared to break is adequate and that a tougher law is no longer required.
A similarly self-serving argument put forward by activist groups that are opposed to this bill is that the invasion of farms is justified for animal welfare reasons. Everyone deplores the illegal mistreatment of any animal, whether it's a pet, a wild animal or livestock. That's why we have strong laws in this country, both state and federal, governing the treatment of animals and livestock, and it's why there are appropriate authorities to enforce those laws and, when necessary, prosecute breaches. However, that does not mean that individuals with a personal aversion to eating meat have the right to carry out vigilante-style invasions of farms in an attempt to get their point across, in an attempt to convince the Australian people that they shouldn't be eating meat.
The rule of law dictates that if you suspect that a crime is being committed then you report it to the appropriate authority. If you believe your neighbour is breaking the law, do you dial 000 and report it to the police and allow the appropriately resourced authorities to handle the situation in a lawful way, or do you break into your neighbour's house to gather evidence for yourself or indeed provide some sort of determination of your own of a personal penalty against your neighbour on the basis of what they're doing? According to the logic of many of the activist groups that presented to the Senate committee, you should just kick down the front door, film what's going on inside the house and liberate some of the property on the way out—which is what these activists are arguing that they should be rightfully allowed to do on farming properties.
One of the other very important issues to consider in relation to this bill—and this goes particularly to the issue of animal welfare, which was raised extensively while this bill was undergoing committee inquiry—is the biosecurity threat and the potential to introduce disease pathogens to livestock and food contaminants to the processing chain as a result of protest activity on agricultural lands. When you listen to the experts, there is absolutely no room for doubt that biosecurity failures have the potential to damage our economy and decimate farming businesses, if not entire industries. Modern biosecurity processing facilities of food and meat, as well as on farms, are extraordinarily comprehensive, and they need to be, because the risk of disease and contamination if these processes aren't in place is very real, as has been witnessed in many countries around the world when diseases have broken out on farming properties and have killed tens of millions of livestock, birds and fish. Such outbreaks, if they were to occur in Australia in one of our industries, could cost our economy billions of dollars and have significant adverse impacts on the livelihood of our farmers. Indeed, the Department of Agriculture confirms that entry of unauthorised people onto properties breaches on-farm biosecurity and increases the risk of animal-to-animal, animal-to-human and human-to-animal disease transmission, which is a threat to animals, farm workers and, quite frankly, trespassers as well; they're putting their own lives at risk.
This was supported by the Australian Veterinary Association, which told the recent Senate committee inquiry that its support for the bill is primarily based on its concern about the high risks to animal biosecurity and welfare that are involved with unauthorised entry by these activists. The Australian Veterinary Association also expressed concerns about diseases that are carried on shoes and clothing. These include foot-and-mouth disease, for example. Australian Dairy Farmers agree that foot-and-mouth disease is a significant concern, referring to research conducted by the CSIRO, which estimates that the cost of an outbreak to the Australian economy would be around $50 billion over 10 years.
Anyone who has visited a meat-processing facility would be familiar with the extent of biosecurity controls that need to be in place to protect against contaminants. I've certainly visited a meat-processing facility in my own state of Tasmania and I have firsthand experience of the types of controls that were in place to prevent biosecurity outbreaks: hand and foot washes not only when entering a facility from outside but also when moving from one room to another, depending on what is being done in each room; checks to ensure that you don't enter a facility if you've recently had certain illnesses or diseases—there's quite an extensive questionnaire that I recently had to fill in, detailing any foreign countries I might have been to or any illness I might have had, because, if you allow in some people that have been unwell or have visited certain foreign countries, again there is a risk that these people will bring a disease onto one of these properties—and pressurisation of certain rooms in these meat-processing facilities to ensure airborne contaminants don't flow in from outside when a door is opened. There are a number of extensive controls in place at these facilities to ensure the safety of the produce that is being processed. At the end of the day, it's because the Australian public will at some point be consuming this produce when it is in their meal as a nice steak dinner. We all think Australian people should have the right to know that the food that they're eating has been prepared in accordance with biosecurity standards.
Breaking into a property, cutting through fences, cutting locks and breaking into sheds clearly represent major breaches of proper biosecurity controls. I'm not convinced these activists, when breaking into, say, a meat-processing facility, are taking the time, in the dead of the night at 2 am, to make sure that their hands have been washed, that they're wearing gloves and that they have put on their hairnet. I seriously doubt this is happening. It is the height of hypocrisy for people professing to care deeply about animal welfare to potentially expose livestock to diseases which could wipe out millions of animals. What is the response of activist groups to these biosecurity concerns raised by experts such as the Australian Veterinary Association? They said that, when they break into farms, they wear overalls and foot coverings. If it wasn't so serious, it would be laughable just what an inadequate and insufficient response this is to a very real threat. Unfortunately, I just don't think your old pair of overalls and a couple of sets of gumboots are really going to cut it in terms of biosecurity.
Let's be very clear: people are perfectly entitled to choose not to eat meat if they want. They're entitled to encourage others not to eat meat—I don't suggest they make that attempt with me, because I love a good steak. But these people are not entitled to break into private property to steal livestock and to damage property or equipment and, in doing so, significantly threaten the livelihood of farmers, because they see that as the most effective way to push the views that they have about the meat industry onto everyday Australians. The people who organise and incite such criminal activity should be held to account by the law. Given the increasing frequency of such criminal actions, it is clear that our laws should be updated to ensure that this is the case, and that's what we're discussing here today.
The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 is a necessary response to the threats and harms caused by incitement of activist trespass on agricultural land. I congratulate the Attorney-General for bringing forward this bill, and I'm proud to be part of the Morrison government which stands up for farmers and understands and respects the value of what farmers do for our country. I strongly urge the Senate to support the bill.
Firstly, let's be crystal clear about what the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 does. It does nothing to address protesters who are trespassing on agricultural land, because that issue is already addressed under state and territory laws; it's already illegal to trespass onto private property and to cause damage.
We understand that for many agricultural communities, and indeed many farmers, protesters are an issue that's causing anxiety. Let's be clear: most farmers are doing the right thing. Most primary production facilities are family owned and run, and some of them are isolated. Most farmers care for their animals, and they are doing everything they can to ensure that their livestock is looked after.
But let's also be clear about why some people are deciding to take action into their own hands and about why some people are protesting by taking action on the streets. In Senator Chandler's contribution she said that it was about having a personal aversion to eating meat. But it has nothing to do with that, and it has everything to do with animals being treated cruelly and abhorrently and governments failing to act. That's what people are protesting about. Senator Chandler must have been asleep when Four Corners broadcast that horrific footage of animals expiring on a horrific journey as a result of the live-export trade with cattle and sheep—animals were being cooked alive at sea.
When it comes to raising animals, again, most farmers do the right thing, but we have laws that allow pigs to be trapped standing in sow stalls while pregnant unable to turn, unable to move and unable to interact with their piglets. That's what some of our current laws allow. We've got poultry that live short, miserable lives in tiny cages where they never see the light of day, where they can barely move and where they can't stand up on their own. That's what people are protesting about, and that's what people are concerned about right across the community.
This isn't an issue that is just limited to those people who are taking direct action but it is an issue that is of concern right across the community. They know that the government is not taking action on any of these fronts. They're too busy protecting their mates in big agribusiness, handing out perks left, right and centre, rather than standing up for animal welfare standards. The government acknowledges that property damage and trespass laws exist. It has been made crystal clear that, when it comes to laws against property damage and trespass, they're written at a state and federal level. So this legislation has nothing to do with people trespassing on private property and damaging private property, because those things are already offences. What this bill does is quash fundamental rights to organise, to advocate and to protest. These are antiprotest laws. This bill creates two new offences. The first of those is that using a carriage service for inciting trespass on agricultural land will result in a penalty of imprisonment for 12 months. The second is that using a carriage service for inciting property damage or theft on agricultural land will result in a penalty of imprisonment for five years. At its heart, this bill is actually about clamping down on political communication and the ability of people to organise and advocate for issues that they are passionate about, issues that many people right across the community care deeply about.
What it means is that if someone blows the whistle by filming illegal animal cruelty and then posting it online, they'll be prosecuted and subject to serious penalties. It means that if someone shares an event on Facebook for a non-violent protest—let's just say against something like a coal seam gas pipeline—they will be subject to prosecution. If somebody is advocating for an end to live animal exports, are they inciting trespass or property damage merely by calling for an end to those industries? These laws, as they are written, are so loose that many of these activities could be subject to prosecution.
Indeed, legal experts at the Law Council of Australia are extremely concerned about these laws. They say the bill has 'the potential to create a chilling effect on legitimate dialogue and debate around animal rights and food production'. That's what legal experts are telling us. We know that this has the potential to further restrict media freedom. Despite the very clumsy attempt to carve out an exemption for journalists, the Law Council also says, 'It may nevertheless make many media outlets reluctant to pursue legitimate stories.' That's called a chilling effect. These laws are unnecessary, because trespass and property damage are already illegal; people can be prosecuted under existing state and territory laws. But what they will serve to do is to have a chilling effect on people's legitimate right to publicly express a view about an issue that they have every right to be concerned about. Because this is an issue of great concern; it's something the Greens have been campaigning on for many, many years—improving animal welfare standards.
Really, this bill is part of a trend that we're seeing within this government where rising social movements for justice are being met with crackdowns by this government and parliaments right across the country. Instead of addressing what protesters are concerned about, they're going after people's legitimate right to protest. It's about putting fear into the community that people's activism and advocacy will land them in jail. Just look at the trend that we're seeing here in Australia. We've got raids by the AFP on the national broadcaster when their story uncovered potential unlawful killings in Afghanistan. In Tasmania we have a state Liberal government that introduced laws restricting protest that were so poorly drafted that the High Court found them to be unconstitutional—again, another government going after people's legitimate right to protest rather than addressing what people's concerns might be. In Queensland right now we've got a Labor state government evoking the ghost of Joe Bjelke-Petersen—cracking down on people who are concerned about climate change and the rapid loss and extinction of so much biodiversity in this country, and increasing search and seizure powers in response to the Extinction Rebellion and calls for a climate emergency. And what's the response from the Labor government in Queensland? 'Let's have laws that throw these people in jail.'
Of course, this is going on right around the world. But we shouldn't be looking at international jurisdictions and following on from their lead. We're seeing draconian protest laws being put in place in the US for the fossil fuel industry. We're seeing authoritarian governments around the world trying to destroy social movements and civil disobedience. We've got protests in Hong Kong being met with extreme police brutality, cracking down on what is a movement for democracy.
The reason politics is failing at the moment, the reason people are so angry at their political representatives, is that they're not listening. Instead, people are being met with governments—whether it be in response to movements for climate justice or for democratic rights or for improving animal welfare—that are cracking down on dissent. We live in a free and democratic society. Peaceful protest has always been an important part of achieving social change. Throughout history, civil disobedience has been a tool for people to make their voices heard, whether it be on universal suffrage or the civil rights movement. Most social movements throughout history have been successful because they have been legitimately expressing their right to be heard.
While we've expressed serious concerns about this bill, we also know that Labor acknowledges all the criticisms I've just made about this piece of legislation, yet we learn that they are going to support this bill. We know it's bad legislation. We know it does nothing to protect farmers. We know it is going to criminalise legitimate political communication. And Labor knows it, too. If you read what the Labor Party said in their additional comments in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which reported on this, Labor expressed precisely the same concerns. Firstly, in their additional comments, they said that the bill was unnecessary—correct—because trespass and property damage is already illegal. They said that the bill may have a range of unforeseen consequences—again, correct; you only need to look at what some of the expert legal commentary on this legislation has been: these laws could be used against farmers, including those undertaking legitimate protest against things like coal seam gas.
The Labor Party also acknowledged that these laws could be used against workers in unions in their fight for better pay and conditions in the food and agriculture sector—correct. The Labor Party acknowledged that the protections for journalists and whistleblowers are inadequate—yes, again, correct. And, if you look at the single recommendation that the Labor senators gave in full in that report, it reads:
Labor Senators recommend the bill be substantially amended to deal with the numerous significant unintended consequences that have been identified by submitters and outlined in this report, and that the amended bill be resubmitted to this committee for review.
It sounds like they're going to vote against the bill. It's a bad bill. There are serious concerns about it. But we now hear that Labor will support the bill, even if their amendments fail. How does this happen? Where has the opposition gone in this chamber? Well, I can tell you where it is: it's sitting over here, with the Greens and the crossbenchers. That's where the opposition to this rotten government is.
The Labor Party have decided that the way to beat the government is by becoming just like them, by giving them everything they want. Let's have a look at what they've done since the last election: $158 billion in tax cuts, something they rarely criticised in the lead-up to the election campaign—rightly, in my view. Again, they've rolled over and given them everything that they want—tax cuts for millionaires. It is a party that for 100 years has supported progressive taxation, and now they're joining with the Liberals to turn Australia into a flat-tax country, just like Trump's America.
And temporary exclusion orders: centralising more and more power in the hands of the home affairs minister—again, the Labor Party was critical of the government on that but have given them everything they want. Again, on the drought bill, the Labor Party made very clear that this was going to be a slush fund for the Nationals, and they opposed it in the lead-up to the election but have now given it to the government. In the lead-up to the election, the government established a $1.2 billion slush fund—not my words, but the words of the Labor Party—that could be spent on private schools, money that is being ripped out of our public school sector and going into the pockets of our wealthiest schools. Well, it was a slush fund in the lead-up to the election, and now it's Labor's slush fund, because they have supported the government on it, refusing to back Senator Faruqi's disallowance motion only this week in the Senate.
Here we are with a further crackdown on peaceful protests, on the right of innocent people to stand up and express their democratic views on how animals are treated. This bill has been roundly condemned by the legal fraternity. It encroaches on media freedoms and, indeed, restricts the powers of unions to ensure that they can advocate for better pay and conditions for workers in the agricultural sector. And Labor are again rolling over and supporting it and giving the government everything that they want. My message to the Labor Party is: you don't beat the conservatives by becoming conservatives; you don't beat the Liberals by giving the Liberals everything that they want; you don't kick out the tories by adopting their policies—you take a stand and you show some leadership.
Here we are in the middle of a climate emergency, where people in the state of Queensland are standing up expressing the view of so many people right across the country and, indeed, right across the globe, and saying that we can't continue to burn fossil fuels. But the response of the Labor Party in Queensland is, 'Let's crack down on civil disobedience; let's lock up protesters; let's give the green light to Adani; let's quash dissent.' People are screaming out for an alternative vision, and it is the Greens in this chamber that are the real opposition, taking a stand against this rotten government.
This is a bill that's unnecessary and expands the reach of the state in a way that criminalises people's democratic right to protest. We've already said that, if someone chooses to break the law by trespassing on private property or, indeed, by damaging private property, they have to face the consequences of those decisions—and there are laws against those actions. But to go to where the Liberal Party have now gone, which says that what we are going to do is restrict people's freedoms and rights to express their concerns over the welfare of animals, is a step too far, and it looks like the Labor Party have taken that step with them. I say to my colleagues within the Labor Party: it's not too late; you can vote against this legislation. Your amendments are not going to be supported. We've already heard that these amendments are unlikely to be supported.
And they're weak, as Senator Faruqi says. Show a bit of courage. Play the role of an opposition. Demonstrate that there's another view in this chamber that people can have faith in. But, if you're not prepared to do it, if you're going to roll over and if you're going to criticise this legislation, as you have rightly done through the Senate committee process, and then vote for it, we have no choice but to condemn both the Liberal and Labor parties for again taking us one step closer to a police state. This is bad legislation.
The media in this country understand that they are the next targets. Indeed, they are already being targeted. Peaceful protesters have known for years that this is a government that knows no bounds and that it is prepared to stop peaceful protests and to quash dissent in an effort to get its agenda through. You can stand up with the community or you can roll over and support what the government is proposing. It is the Greens who will stand up to this government's agenda. It is the Greens who are the real opposition.